One year after the disappearance of a then-eight-year-old girl from a Washington, D.C. homeless shelter, supporters believe the girl may still be alive.
Relisha Rudd was last seen alive on March 1, 2014 in the company of 51-year-old Khalil Tatum, a janitor at D.C.General, the homeless shelter at which Rudd and her family lived. Tatum and Rudd were spotted on surveillance video at a motel in Northeast D.C.
According to Washington, D.C. NBC affiliate WRC-TV, police believe Tatum kidnapped Rudd. Tatum was also a suspect in the death of his wife, Andrea, who was found dead weeks after Rudd’s disappearance; family members have said they believe she was killed because she knew Tatum had taken Rudd. Tatum himself committed suicide a short time later.
However, suspicion has also focused on Shamika Young, Rudd’s mother, and Young’s boyfriend Antonio Wheeler. Rudd may have been missing for weeks before her disappearance was reported, and police have said Young was aware that her daughter was in Tatum’s company, a claim Young refutes.
Among those who believe that Rudd’s mother may possess information about the girl’s disappearance is Derrica Wilson, a former northern Virginia law enforcement officer who has volunteered her expertise in the case. Wilson has said she believes Rudd was a victim of human trafficking.
“I think the mother knows something more than what she’s said….what was the actual motive,” Wilson said.
The search for Rudd also spawned a radio show. “The Finding Relisha Radio Show” was created by another volunteer, Keith Warren, on Blog Talk Radio and boasted loyal following, some of whom believed Young should be jailed for neglect.
Wilson is assisting the Metropolitan Police Department in the search for Rudd, and has worked to generate public awareness about the case. As the one-year anniversary of Rudd’s disappearance approached, more than 7,000 flyers were passed out to citizens in cars, on the street and in designated areas.
“It’s been a year, however we want to challenge everyone in finding her and every child, to look into their eyes, and more importantly, think outside the box,” said Wilson, the co-founder and CEO of the Black and Missing Foundation.
Among Wilson’s stops on March 2 was the KFC/Taco Bell parking lot, located across the street from the Holiday Inn Express where Tatum was last seen with Rudd.
“We are saturating the areas in passing out flyers as to where Tatum was seen,” said Wilson.
Flyers were also distributed at the D.C. General Homeless Shelter, the area in Kenilworth Park where Tatum’s body was found, and other locations in Northeast D.C.
At a press conference to mark the one-year anniversary, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser was joined by Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier and Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s D.C. field office, Timothy Gallagher.
“I am joined by the many residents around the District, to raise awareness about Relisha a year after her disappearance,” Bowser said. “Our administration is reevaluating ways to strengthen public safety and our procedures and programming so that we respond efficiently and effectively to families—especially children who are at risk. Deputy Mayor of Health and Human Services Brenda Donald will work across agencies to ensure thoughtful recommendations are implemented in a timely manner.”
“We hope that the continued attention on the anniversary that Relisha was last seen, may prompt someone who may have information to come forward and contact us,” Lanier said. “I want to thank the numerous members of the community who have provided tips, assisted in searches and supported our efforts. This continues to be an open and active investigation. We remain hopeful that Relisha is alive somewhere.”
Gallagher said the search for Rudd will not stop until she is located. The FBI is offering a $25,000 reward for any information leading to Rudd’s whereabouts. Anyone with information should contact the Command Information Center at 202-727-9099, the Youth Investigations Division at 202-576-6768, or the FBI at 202-278-2000. Tips can be sent via text to 50411.